Inaugural Friday News Analysis: Ohio 12 & the “Blue Wave;” New Russia Sanctions; and SPACE FORCE!
As August is generally a quiet month in Washington, D.C., it seemed like this would be a natural opportunity for CSPC to soft-launch its Friday news round-up, which will bring you analysis from inside the Beltway and across the globe. Every Friday, we’ll try to quickly analyze what’s driven the news for the week, and, when possible, highlight stories that did not get the coverage they deserved.
As this evolves, we’ll appreciate any feedback that you might have, and you can reach us at Dan.Mahaffee@thePresidency.org or Michael.Stecher@thePresidency.org.
Dan Mahaffee, CSPC Senior Vice President, Director of Policy
Michael Stecher, CSPC Senior Advisor
Predicting Just How High the “Blue Wave” Will Crest
While Troy Balderson, the Republican nominee in the special election for Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, appears to be holding on to his slim lead, it is hardly cause for celebration among Republicans. The Ohio 12th is a prototypical GOP stronghold district. Drawn to incorporate wide swaths of rural Ohio with some of the Columbus suburbs and exurbs, this district was carried by President Trump in 2016 by 11 points, and it was rated R+7 by the respected, non-partisan Cook Partisan Voter Index (PVI).
The researchers at Five-Thirty-Eight have compiled the results of the special elections since President Trump’s inauguration, and, using their model, it suggests an average swing to the Democrats of around 15.7 points above an index of the combined 2012 and 2016 elections results. Of course, whether or not that is the exact size of the “Blue Wave” is hard to determine. Each race has a wide range of local circumstances, and, while midterms tend to favor the party out of power, Democrats have a mixed record with getting out the vote in midterms. Despite all that, Democrats are right to be cautiously optimistic about their prospects in the House. Exit polling is never perfect, but it appears that increased turnout by women, minorities, and young people is driving some of this “Blue Wave.” Other data suggests that another important factor is that those college-educated voters who favored Trump over Clinton are now favoring the Democrats in local races.
Now, to the cold hard calculus, from this analysis by David Wasserman at the Cook Political Report:
To put the [Ohio 12] result in context: there are 68 GOP-held House seats with a Cook PVI score less Republican than the 12th CD’s (R+7), and 119 GOP-held House seats less Republican than Pennsylvania’s 18th CD (R+11), where Democrat Conor Lamb won in March. Democrats only need to net 23 seats to win the House in November.
One final note of analysis from the Ohio 12th raises an important question for both parties’ future. For Republican Troy Balderson, it appears that an endorsement from Ohio Governor John Kasich may have made the difference.
Wasserman’s analysis points out that Balderson had a strong showing in what is traditionally Kasich territory, while the rural areas that drove up totals for Trump in 2016 had lower turnout. Kasich’s endorsement clearly states that he and Balderson “share views on many issues, including trade, national security and ending family separation at the border.” Across the aisle, Balderson’s opponent, Danny O’Connor, lost some of his momentum when he equivocated on whether or not he would support Nancy Pelosi as Speaker.
Perhaps that’s the ultimate lesson for any candidate in the 2018 midterms. With voters tired of Washington’s deadlock—yet concerned by President Trump’s approach—it might be best to run away from the party leadership.
U.S. Places Chemical Weapons Sanctions on Russia
On Wednesday, the State Department announced that the U.S. Government would place new sanctions on Russia in response to the assassination attempt on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the United Kingdom in March. The attempt on Skirpal’s life used a chemical nerve agent called “Novichok” that was created during the Cold War by the Soviet military. It is related to other nerve agents like Sarin, which was used by the Iraqi military against Kurds in Halabja in 1988 and the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult in the Tokyo subway in 1995, and VX, which was used by North Korea to assassinate the half brother of Kim Jong-Un last year, but is a closely guarded Russian military secret.
Skirpal had been a colonel in the Russian military intelligence service (GRU). In 2006, he pleaded guilty to working as a spy for the British Secret Intelligence Service (popularly referred to as MI6). Russian prosecutors alleged that he was recruited by British intelligence in 1995. The charges against him included that he provided information that resulted in the uncovering and expulsion of Russian agents working in Europe and was paid $100,000 for his work. He was pardoned in 2010 and transferred as part of the spy swap that returned 10 Russian operatives — so called “illegals” — who had been posing as Americans without diplomatic cover.
The sanctions announced by the State Department fall under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991, which calls for sanctions against countries that produce chemical or biological weapons (CBW) or use them, either in interstate conflict or against their own people, as well as organizations that provide supplies used in CBW proliferation. The sanctions will target the export of goods that could have military applications, including dual-use goods like engines and electronics. Existing sanctions on Russia already preclude most products with national security uses, but a State Department source told the Washington Post that under the new sanctions, loopholes will be closed and “nearly all” export requests will be denied. Following the announcement, Russia’s currency fell to its lowest level since 2016 and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev promised retaliatory measures. The UK government announced advocated for a stronger response to the poisoning attack and announced that it welcomed the U.S. move.
Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA), the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee sent President Trump a letter in March asking for an official determination as to whether Russia had breached the CBW Control and Elimination Act. The White House failed to provide such a determination within the 60-day period requested by Chairman Royce, prompting a second letter in late-July that declared that the President’s “compliance with the Chemical and Biological Weapons and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 is critical to showing Putin that we are serious about challenging his deadly acts, as well as his ongoing attacks on our democracy.”
These sanctions represent the second set of diplomatic moves against Russia in response to the Skirpal attack. The first was the expulsion of 60 alleged intelligence officers working undercover as diplomats in March, a move coordinated with other NATO allies and EU members.
It also reflects the challenges that President Trump faces trying to build warmer relations with Russia, despite that country’s aggressive use of covert action and violations of international laws and norms. Following Helsinki, key Congressional Republicans continue to put pressure on Russia, even though President Trump and an increasing portion of the “Trump base” favor rapprochement.
Don’t Look at Space Force in a Vacuum
Joshua Huminski, CSPC Program Director, Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs
On Thursday, Vice President Pence unveiled the administration’s plan to establish a Space Force within the Department of Defense by 2020. This coincided with the unveiling of a Congressionally-mandated, Pentagon-drafted report on how the Defense Department would create such an entity. While much has been made of the announcement and the report — hyperbole about “Star Wars”, lightsabers, and the like — it obfuscates the impetus behind the announcement and, perhaps more importantly, the real work that is already underway.
The roadmap to a Space Force contains four components: the creation of a U.S. Space Command as a unified combatant command; the establishment of a Space Operations Force to support the combatant command; the formation of a Space Development Agency to serve as a joint procurement arm; and the naming of a civilian to the assistant secretary of defense for space post.
Much of this can be done without congressional approval, but standing up the Space Force as a sixth branch of the armed forces requires amending Title 10, which is the prerogative of Congress. Congress chose not to take up the Space Force issue in the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), instead addressing some of the surrounding operational issues such as reusability.
A bipartisan majority in the House supported the creation of a Space Force akin to the Marine Corps in a draft of the NDAA, but this was removed during conference committee. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) — a highly vocal Air Force critic and Space Force advocate — said that he intends on introducing legislation as early as the beginning of next year to make Space Force the newest branch of the armed forces.
Space is and has been a contested domain, and it seems that the Space Force discussion is finally focusing much of Washington’s attention on a reality that few fully appreciated. Russia, China, and others continue to develop counterspace capabilities designed to undermine America’s dominance of space. As space becomes more and more important to the security and prosperity of the United States, preparations need to be made today.
Perhaps most critically, the discussion of the Space Force obfuscated the real work that the Secretary of the Air Force, Dr. Heather Wilson, and Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General David Goldfien are undertaking to prioritize space, reform acquisitions, and “go fast,” in the words of General John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command. The Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) in Los Angeles unveiled its “SMC 2.0” reforms at this year’s Space Symposium in Colorado Springs in an effort to streamline and accelerate Air Force space acquisitions. This is set to be fully online as of 1 October. At the same time the newly designated Space Rapid Capabilities Office (Space RCO) is working to develop new capabilities for the national security space architecture, as is an Air Force-led consortium aimed at bringing first-time vendors to the Air Force.
The Space Force discussion also does not take into consideration the potential disruptions and outstanding questions that creating a new force entails: additional layers of bureaucracy; interim needs of the warfighter and the active missions underway; and, of course, how will it all be funded.
If nothing else the Space Force discussion raised the issue of conflict in space to a national-level dialogue. That is to be welcomed, but the focus on the Space Force in a — pardon the pun — vacuum misses real reforms that are underway at the Air Force and serious questions about implementation.
Other News of Note:
- In Caracas, Venezuela, on August 4th, explosives-laden drones were employed in an attempted assassination of President Nicolas Maduro. While commerical drones had been modified by Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria to carry explosives, this is the first time that they were used in an attempted assassination. Experts have long been concerned about how drone swarms might be used in combat, terrorist attacks, or attempted assassinations—and, while unsuccessful, the attack in Caracas represents a crossing of a technogical rubicon.
- In one of those story lines that appears like it could only happen in 2018, Saudi Arabia and Canada are embroiled in a growing war of words. The blowup began when the Canadian government issued a statement opposing the detention of women’s rights and civil society activists. The Saudis unveiled a range of sanctions on Canada, including: a moratorium on any new bilateral trade negotiations between the two nations, the suspension of all Saudi airline flights servicing Canada, and the expulsion of the Canadian ambassador from Saudi Arabia. This sudden crackdown on dissent against a relatively large, wealthy western power has prompted many to consider the background and implications of this squabble, and how it reflects on the government of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, even as he advocates for a wide range of reforms in the Kingdom.